It was a cold, dreary January afternoon in which Jesmond and Matthew first met in Valletta some two years ago. Both were incredibly passionate about the news, but more than that, they both sought to provide a context to global developments in a local context.
A mutual acquantaince suggested they hold a meeting, given that they both sought the same thing – to lead Malta’s premier global political analysis organisation. Two years later, the fruit of their work has featured in analysis by the US Air Force college, been read by policy makers in both Brussels and Valletta, and influencing the decisions of the business community locally.
Navigating the waters of an increasingly disrupted world, CiConsulta provided insight into the major global developments. The fallout of Brexit, to developments in Brussels and Washington, and now the earth-shaking coronavirus, we provide context to our readers, and will continue to lead the way.
Over a coffee at the Osborne Hotel, Malta’s first specialised geopolitical analysis team was created, and a strong friendship formed. The rest, as they say, is history.
By Matthew Bugeja and Jesmond Saliba
Malta’s island mentality has finally been dealt a crippling blow, at least, for now. It comes under the most unfortunate of circumstances, being the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID19. For the families of the more than 100 individuals who are suffering from this nasty affliction, this has caught them unawares. They were, and are innocent bystanders. Through no fault of their own, they contracted a virus that scientists believe originally emanated from the live animal markets of Wuhan, in China, sometime in December 2019.
As Maltese, we have been on either side of the benefits and drawbacks of globalisation. We joined the EU, and as a result of our membership, a lot of European products are cheaper to buy than they were pre-2004. Wine and cheese, as just two examples. On the other hand, a number of factories, such as textiles, had closed up shop in the last few decades, moving their operations to cheaper destinations in North Africa and Asia. A lot of Maltese lost their jobs in factories as a result. Globalisation, for all of its faults, it’s also the reason why a lot of products, such as televisions, are actually affordable for more people than ever. The cheaper the price of labour, the cheaper the producer can sell their product. We have lost a bit, but we have gained a lot also.
But back to the main discussion point. The island mentality. Something so many of us have, and don’t even realise. I looked up the phrase online to determine whether it could accurately describe how the Maltese look at the world, and found that it was inadequate. We have an island mentality. But like so much that is unique about us, our own form of island mentality is a little different from the traditional definition.
Many of us follow global developments with some interest. A very few follow these same developments closely. If you were to ask the average Frenchman what is going on in the world, and the average Maltese citizen, the chances are that the Frenchman is generally going to be a little more versed in events around the world. This is not to disparage the Maltese, but the French have a stronger vested interest in global developments, given that they are considered a strong global player. Malta is a young country, with a smaller global footprint. But we are often more affected by global events than we realise, and that does not seem to have changed our perspective – the perspective that says that any thing which happens beyond our shores is not very relevant to our everyday lives.
In 2008, our country was, fortunately, not directly impacted by the global financial crisis, for a number of reasons. Whilst our European brethren suffered in the financial markets, Malta remained safe.
In 2011, as a sovereign debt crisis rocked Europe, with Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland being rocked by mounting debts, Malta remained steadfast and strong. Again, our little ship chugged on.
Malta was directly impacted by the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Foreign nationals were evacuated to our country. Two Libyan pilots defected to Malta, leaving their fighter jets in the possession of the Maltese armed forces (for a period of time). We were enthralled by developments, but remained emotionally distanced in some ways, despite the fact that so many Maltese had direct business interests and relationships there.
Now, in 2020, the coronavirus has virtually locked down Malta in an unofficial capacity. The same virus has now impacted close to 200 other countries around the world. Like others, we are also staying inside as much as we can, trying to give the health authorities the time and space to treat those who have come down with the illness, so as to avoid overwhelming our national health service. We are no different than the British, the French, and the Italians in that way. Luckily, so far, we have not been as hard hit as the Italians have, and hopefully, this will remain the case.
But if there is one thing that this unfortunate event should have taught us as a country is that the world is much smaller than we think. Surrounded by the sea, it is easy to go to the beach, look out, and think that we are completely alone in the world. Nothing can happen to us. We are safe from any enemy. We are immune from any sickness. The sea will protect us.
That could not be further from the truth. Almost all of us have been blessed to have been born during peacetime, after World War II. We have seen our fair share of economic crises, but we have moved on as a global and national society. Few of us, with the exception of those above the age of 60 remember what it is like to live with very little, and what actual hardship is like.
The world is interconnected. Malta is very much a part of that world. For too long, we have pretended that the sun rises and sets on Malta, and that the rest of the world is just what we see in the news. COVID19 has, hopefully, opened our eyes. When this is all over, we cannot ignore the lessons it has taught us, at the cost of jobs, income, psychological distress, illness and social detachment. As a people, we must dispense with the island mentality, and pay attention to what is going on beyond our shores. Businesses, in particular, must follow foreign developments closely, and prepare their businesses for any impacts before it is too late to do anything about it.
We will either learn our lesson, or learn it again in the future at great cost.
Welcome to the world, Malta.
Matthew Bugeja, Jesmond Saliba